- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2010

Iran will free an American woman jailed there for more than 13 month “very soon,” an Iranian diplomat at the United Nations told The Washington Times Thursday.

Reports from Tehran said one of three detained Americans will be freed Saturday.

“I can confirm that Sarah Shourd will be released very soon,” Bak Sahraei, second counsellor at Iran’s mission to the United Nations said by telephone from New York.

Ms. Shourd, 31, was detained in July 2009 along with Shane Bauer, 27, and Josh Fattal, 27, when they strayed into Iran from northern Iraq during a hiking trip. Iran claimed they crossed the border illegally and charged them with spying.

Mr. Sahraei would not say when the other two Americans will be freed.

The Associated Press reported from Tehran Thursday that Iran’s Culture Ministry sent a text message to reporters telling them to come to a Tehran hotel on Saturday morning to witness the release of the American. The site, the Estaghal hotel, is the same one where the three were allowed the only meeting with their mothers since they were detained in July 2009.

“Offering congratulations on Eid al-Fitr,” the ministry text message said, referring to the feast marking the end of Ramadan.

The Iranian message gave no other details about who would be freed. Ms. Shourd, 31, has told her mother she has serious medical problems.

The gesture could be a calculated move by Iran to soften international criticism of its judiciary. Iran has faced a growing storm of protest over a stoning sentence for a woman convicted of adultery that has been temporarily suspended, the AP reported.

Releasing prisoners and showing clemency is a common practice in the Muslim world during the fasting month of Ramadan.

Ms. Shourd’s mother, Nora, told the AP her daughter told her in a telephone call in August that prison officials have denied her requests for medical treatment. The mother said they talked about her daughter’s medical problems, including a breast lump and precancerous cervical cells, and her solitary confinement in Tehran’s Evin prison.

During the American hostage crisis in 1979-1981, Iran first released women and African-Americans as a sign of respect for women and mercy toward minorities.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said U.S. officials are in contact with Swiss diplomats who handle U.S. affairs in Iran.

“We don’t know, frankly, what Iran is contemplating at this point,” Mr. Toner said. “If this turns out to be true, this is terrific news. The hikers’ release is long overdue.”